It was a melancholy time on the Northcoast Environmental Center's front porch last Friday. Volunteers had set up three or four folding tables, and on each of them they had placed hundreds of books. These were the books that didn't sell at a big booksale the weekend previous. Now they were selling for 25 cents apiece. Everything must go.
Those old books were property of the NEC, of course, but everyone knew that they mostly belonged to the late Tim McKay, who up until his sudden death last July was pretty much synonymous with the organization he helped found. Now, after a decent period of mourning, the NEC was clearing out McKay's library in preparation for a move across town. It wasn't a small job. McKay was a great one for books, files, pamphlets - paper of all sorts.
"Tim took it all in," said Susan Nolan, a former NEC staffer who came in to help clean house. "He never said no to anything." It was a warm spring morning, and three or four people at a time were milling up and down the patio, grazing through the leftovers. They'd come to Nolan with their stock and handfuls of change. Plenty of people gave extra.
In fact, the books on offer came from the second incarnation of McKay's famously massive library; the first mostly burnt down with the original NEC offices in July 2001. After the fire, many supporters stepped forward with donations to replace what had been lost. And now those donated were headed back into the community, provided they could find a home as loving as their last one.
There were boxes and boxes of bound environmental impact reports and timber harvest plans. There was the 1997 edition of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. There was a slender volume entitled "Glaciers" - apparently a record of the 1960 Condon Lecture, presented at the Oregon State System of Higher Education. Wolf and Moose Studies on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska: 1976-1980. Piles of Alvin Toffler paperbacks. About a dozen birding guides to locales all over North America, which were donated by the late, great naturalist and Times-Standard correspondent, David Anderson.
Everyone had their favorites. Inside, Greg King, the NEC's new executive director, told a story about the big booksale the weekend previous. He said that Scott Greacen of the Environmental Protection Information Center happened by and noted the astounding number of old environmental impact reports on hand. He went through them all, King said, and once in a while he'd stop and say, "Oh, whoa! He has this one?" - holding up some national forest plan from the '70s. A classic!
Susan Nolan wasn't sure what would become of the books if people didn't take them home. The recycling center didn't want them. No bookstore would take them. They had to be spread to the wind. At one point a raggedy fellow stopped and chatted with Nolan about the paperback he had chosen, digging around in his pocket for a quarter. Suddenly an Arcata city bus pulled up. "That's my bus!" he said, sprinting off with his book. "I'll come back and pay you!"
"O.K.," Nolan said to herself, smiling. The guy and his book were already gone.